|*NEW*! EPHEDRA-FREE FAT BURNERS - EXPERT'S ROUNDTABLE
Author: Tom Venuto
Date: Mar 24, 2003
With Special Guests: Chris Aceto, Will Brink, Phil Kaplan, Jon Benson,
Nelson Montana, and Lyle McDonald
"We've Made Ephedra Obsolete!"
"Clinically Proven More Powerful Than
Ephedrine-Based Fat Burners!"
"Groundbreaking University Research Yields
Unprecedented Results With Radical New Thermogenic."
"Fastest Acting Fat Burner Ever Created!"
"The Most Advanced Fat Burner Known to Science - Proven More Powerful
Than Ephedra-Based Thermogenics!"
These are just a handful of the bold claims that many supplement companies
are making about ephedra-free fat burners. But could they really be true?
Last year, ephedrine & ephedra sales skyrocketed to over one billion dollars,
up 20% from the previous year, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
With the negative publicity surrounding recent ephedrine-related deaths and
FDA pressure mounting, it's been speculated that the push for ephedra-free
products has more to do with maintaining bank account balances than it does
with "groundbreaking new research."
Do the supplement companies see the writing on the wall? Do they fear
imminent doom for their major cash cows, causing them to scramble for quick,
albeit unproven, alternatives? Are they pulling a Òbait and switch" on
unsuspecting consumers who only recognize the brand names, but have no
idea what's really in the bottle?
Consumers who are tired of getting ripped off want to know the truth, so I asked
six of the most knowledgeable and respected weight loss and bodybuilding
supplement experts in the country to get the real scoop.
Some of the questions I put to these guys were:
* Are ephedra-free fat burners effective at all or just a big scam?
* What are your thoughts on the marketing of these products and the claims
* Is the safety of ephedrine as big a concern for healthy people as the media
makes it out to be, and if so, are the ephedra-free products really safer?
* How does this push for ephedra-free products tie in with recent events
surrounding ephedrine (athlete deaths, FDA pressure, etc)
* What does the "real world" have to say about ephedra-free? (or if it's too early
to tell, what do you think the real world WILL say?
You'll quickly discover as you read the responses that opinions on ephedrine
are highly polarized and emotionally charged. But that's exactly why and how I
selected this panel: I did not pick six experts who agreed with each other nor did
I pick only those who shared my personal point of view. Rather, I specifically
selected this panel to present different viewpoints for your consideration.
Ultimately, you'll have to decide for yourself whether ephedra-caffeine or the
new ephedra-free products are right for you. Hopefully the facts you learn from
these eye-opening essays will help you make an intelligent decision.
So without further ado, let's get started, shall we?
Chris Aceto is a world-renowned bodybuilding nutritionist to the pros and
author of "Everything You Need to Know About Fat Loss," "Understanding
Bodybuilding Training and Nutrition," and "Championship Bodybuilding."
He is a regular contributor to FLEX and Muscle & Fitness magazines. You
can visit Chris on the web and order his books at www.nutramedia.com
It's silly to believe there will be a replacement for ephedra and ephedrine. First,
ephedra exerts drug-like effects. And ephedrine is a drug. Both increase the
heart rate and strongly stimulate the nervous system. The result is a release of
catecholamines, strong messengers that literally stimulate fat cells to break
down. In my opinion, ephedrine is the second most effective fat loss drug next to
That said, there is no comparable substitute in terms of effectiveness. Not even
close. A couple years ago, I put together an article for people who despised the
stimulatory effects of ephedrine. The goal was to find alternatives - supplements
that might facilitate fat loss - without feeling the jittery or over stimulation that
occurs with ephedra, ephedrine and added caffeine.
I didn't find anything significant. I did list tyrosine, calcium, selenium, green tea
(before the green tea bandwagon took off) and guggul products and a few
other things. They may work and I would certainly suggest them for someone
who is serious about getting lean- who plans to DIET - but they'll never replace
ephedra and especially ephedrine. Plus, people like to feel 'high.' You can't get
that high-type edge from anything else.
Oh, don't forget: Ephedra not only speeds up the metabolic rate, but it prevents
protein breakdown. When you diet, you risk losing muscle (protein) and when
that happens, your metabolic rate slows. Ephedrine products prevent that.
I think what we'll see is this: When people who used to use ephedrine products
with success switch to ephedra-free products, they'll just stop buying them.
Some companies will probably go out of business.
Phil Kaplan is a 20-year industry veteran, public speaker, outspoken
consumer advocate, author of hundreds of articles, several best-selling
books including ÒTransform!" and "The Best You've Ever Been," and too
many more programs to mention. Phil writes "The Fitness Truth" column
and is heard every Saturday morning on his Mind & Muscle Fitness Hour
Radio Show at 9 AM on News radio 610 in South Florida, worldwide on the
Internet via www.philkaplan.com
Most of the new ephedrine-free formulas have simply replaced ephedrine with
synephrine. Whether they use the words "citrus aurantium," or "bitter orange,"
the active alkaloids are synephrine. Is synephrine safe? Who knows? It hasn't
been used for any extended period of time as a several-times-per-day fat
burning compound. It's unfortunate, but the reality is, we often have to wait until
enough people get injured or die due to abuse or overuse of a product before
it's deemed unsafe. Ephedrine has been out there for years and the dosages
are well into the millions with ephedrine sales amounting to well over $1 billion
annually. There have been enough documented strokes and deaths to now
seriously question whether the brakes should be put on ephedrine sales.
Synephrine risk, by comparison, still remains an untested unknown.
Before the big push for ephedrine free formulas, synephrine (or its isomer
phenylephrine) was used in nasal sprays. If you ever read the warning label on
Neo-Synephrine, you'll find it closely mimics the standard warnings posted in
tiny print on ephedrine compounds.
The synephrine research is sketchy, there is a lack of relevant research directly
considering synephrine as a fat burner, and because it's an alpha adrenergic
agonist, the vasoconstrictive properties certainly make it contraindicated for
anyone with a history of hypertension. While ephedrine has resulted in weight
loss, both in the laboratory and anecdotally, synephrine has not demonstrated
anywhere near the weight loss potential of the compound it's being used to
replace. Judging by the way they're marketed, the synephrine formulas are
being developed so supplement sellers maintain revenues. They know words
such as "thermogenic" sell products, and they know if ephedrine becomes a
black market product, millions will be seeking out an alternative.
When weighing out the value vs. the risk involved with synephrine usage, it's
important to note that many of the supplements sold as fat burners are
conglomerates of stimulant compounds. Even if synephrine does prove safe on
its own, combine it with L-tyrosine, yohimbe, caffeine, and stimulant herbs and
the test of time can only tell. Unfortunately, the test of time may lead to injuries
and deaths that could have been prevented if these products do find their place
in the market without adequate safety testing.
Nelson Montana is the Author of "The Bodybuilding Truth," and his brand
new book, "Bottom Line Bodybuilding." He is an industry insider and
bodybuilding journalist with articles featured in Muscle Mag International,
Testosterone Magazine, and other publications on and off the web. You
can visit Nelson on the web.
Are ephedra-free fat burners safe and effective? That depends on the product,
the ingredients, and the quality of the company. I've never been a fan of
ephedra anyway. I believe there are better alternatives, but some products are
just "ephedra-wanna-be's" in that they're milder (and less effective) versions of
it. (i.e. synephrine).
As much as I'm all for civil liberties and a big believer in the use of supplements,
there's no denying that ephedra is hardly free from side effects. It's a drug -- no
two ways about it.
Anything that stimulates the CNS can arguably be called a fat loss product. The
problem is, the body will always try to maintain homeostasis and in doing so,
attempt to slow the metabolism down when it's over stimulated. Consequently,
once you stop using the stimulant, your metabolism is more sluggish than ever,
and you gain back the weight you lost -- and then some.
The research on ephedra-free is all shaky. The supplement companies are
promoting these new products as ÒAdvanced" or Ònew and improved," of
course. That's business. What do you expect them to say? It's ALMOST as
good? You can't attract customers by promoting a product as "not bad." You
must convince the public they can't live without it! It's up to the consumer to do
his or her homework.
But the ad men know people are lazy and they exploit that. Like most
supplement claims, it's all a stretch. And they'll stretch the truth as far as they
can and get away with it.
Anyone can say that almost ANY nutrient is a factor is fat loss or muscle
building or clearer thinking, simply due to the fact that the body works in
tandem. If a component is missing, it starts breaking down -- all the way down
There's really a bigger issue involved here. For one thing, the term
"thermogenic" is a bit of a farce. The amount of ephedra (or any other CNS
stimulant) needed to actually raise core body temperature will make you feel like
death warmed over. The weight loss effect comes mostly from the appetite
The key to permanent weight loss is twofold. Rule number one is: You must
burn more calories than you consume. There's no denying that, no matter what
anyone tells you.
The other, and often overlooked aspect, is to stimulate the thyroid to burn more
fat -- and to do it in a way that's healthy, not with the use of drugs. I get more
into that in my new book: BOTTOM LINE BODYBUILDING. The Cold Hard Facts
On: Training - Nutrition - Supplements- And Drugs.
Let's face it. If these products worked so well, we'd all be eating calzones and
cheesecake and be ripped! It just doesn't work that way. Body alteration is a
lifestyle -- not a quick fix.
Will Brink is a well-known and respected industry journalist and
consultant whose articles have been featured in: Muscle Mag
International, Muscle & Fitness, Muscle Media, Physical, Woman's World
and Let's Live. Will is the author of "Priming the Anabolic Environment"
and two best selling e-books:
Diet Supplements Revealed:
Will's home page, "The Brink Zone":
The current explosion of ephedrine-free weight loss products is more a function
of market pressure vs. being based on any breakthroughs in science per se.
Many companies may be seeing the writing on the wall regarding the bias media
coverage and FDA's intent to ban ephedrine, and feel it's best for their
company to distance themselves from ephedrine.
Claims by some companies that their new ephedrine-free "fat burners" are
equivalent to- or even superior to -EC based products, is wishful thinking and
marketing driven BS. That's not to say that some compounds found in the new
E free products might not be useful for fat loss (which depends on the
compound in questions of course), but none have had head to head in vivo
studies comparing to EC, which has a plethora of data to support both the
safety and effectiveness of EC. When any company funds a study of their new
E free formula vs. a properly designed EC formula, and shows equivalent fat
loss, then my opinion will be altered. I wont be holding my breath however...
On the matter of EC side effects so hyped by the media; the side effects of EC
are short lived, transient, and minor in normo-tensive healthy people, as has
been shown in literally dozens of studies. The dangers of EC are far over stated
and often financially/politically motivated. It's sad, but typical of the medical
community and FDA to basically ignore the data on ephedrine. Seems to me,
those living in glass houses should not throw stones, as FDA "approved" drugs
kill an estimated 125,000 Americans each year and deaths from prescription
drugs are the fifth or sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Does
that mean we should ban pharmaceutical drugs? Of course not, because often
(1) the benefit of the drug outweighs the risk and (2) when you look at the total
number of people taking FDA approved drugs and divide that by the number of
people who die from these drugs, the risk is relatively small.
Such is exactly the case with ephedrine based fat burners, which to date have
been related to not even a handful of deaths. It's often an ignorant doctor or
nutritionist who gives the above dire warning about the risks of ephedrine. But
what about the risks from doctors? According to a report from the U.S. Dept. of
Health & Human Services, there are 120,000 Accidental deaths caused by
physicians per year! Should we ban doctors, or realize that the amount of good
they do per person greatly outweighs the risk? What is that risk? Again, it
comes down to a simple risk to benefit assessment. Being we know that obesity
is a major factor in the deaths of millions of Americans, and we know that
ephedrine based fat burners are quite safe, it would appear the benefit of such
products far outweigh the risks.
Bottom line: EC products appear quite safe and highly effective, but they are
not for everyone. Nothing in life us 100% risk free. E free formulas may have
their uses (this statement depends VERY much on the E free formula in
question), but there is no proof they are the equivalent, much less superior, to a
good EC based formula.
Jon Benson is a nutrition and fitness counselor from Dallas, Texas and the
founder of All Your Strength.com. Formerly overweight and ill, Jon Benson
completely transformed himself; overcoming hypothyroidism,
hyperinsulinemia, high blood pressure and obesity. He now spends his
time teaching others how to transform from the inside out through his
ÒTotal Transformation Program." Log on to www.AllYourStrength.com for
more info and to subscribe to his free monthly newsletter.
When I was in my early 20s, I was the typical bodybuilder looking for a shortcut
(this shy of steroids). I discovered the ephedrine/caffeine/aspirin (ECA) stack
while reading an old pamphlet by bodybuilding guru Dan Duchaine.
The ECA stack, taken three times per day, worked miracles on my fat stores! I
felt the thermogenic 'wave', a sensation of flushing heat from my toes to my
head, several times a day. I knew I was on to something! Unfortunately, I was on
nothing but a road to serious illness.
After years of cycling on and off this stuff, I began to notice extreme fatigue. I
went to my doctor and, low and behold, my adrenal glands were diagnosed as
"shot." I began therapy to repair them. During the therapy I developed and still
suffer from panic disorder.
Ephedrine usage left me with taxed adrenals, a nasty adrenaline feedback loop,
and MORE body fat that when I started the stack. It's taken years, but now I'm
virtually free of stimulants. Both of my physicians are positive that, had I not
played around with this junk, I'd be 'normal' today.
The herb "ephedra" is the mother of the drug ephedrine (herbs and drugs are
really the same thing; the latter simply having the reputation of greater
side-effects and get the pleasure of massive regulation and promotion to
physicians). This is an important starting point, as most fat burners use ephedra
as the main ingredient.
The physiological desire here is to generate greater body heat, a process
known as "Thermogenesis." Since a calorie is technically a unit of heat, it
stands to reason that the greater the core temperature of the body, the more
calories are burned at rest.
Many other herbs and drugs are considered thermogenic to one degree or
another. Caffeine is slightly thermogenic by itself. Combined with ephedrine
(EC) it's a potent thermogenic aid and does, most assuredly, cause fat loss to
So what's the big deal about EC? Well, on top of the slight to moderate risk of
death, strokes and heart attacks, and a substantial risk of increased blood
pressure and adrenal fatigue, ephedrine is addictive. There's no getting around
this simple fact: ephedrine is the weaker chemical cousin of SPEED. That's
right: You're a druggie if you're on ephedrine, ephedra, or ephed-whatever.
Same thing, different degrees. How anyone can suggest that "weak speed" is
SAFE is beyond me...but that's just my opinion.
Ephedra is far less addictive, less expensive, and less potent, hence its use in
so many fat-burning supplements. The trouble is that it's no less harmful to your
nervous system, especially if you have illnesses or genetic "time bombs" you
are unaware of.
To one person, popping a few pills containing ephedra would cause no ill effect
whatsoever. To another, a slight bit of the jitters. To a few, death. Those are the
facts. You simply do not know. It's the biological equivalent of playing Russian
Roulette.... all for a better set of abs? No thank you.
So, aren't ephedra-free supplements considered a "safe" alternative? Sure, but
only by the marketing companies that push this junk. There are major problems
here, not the least of which is the fact that 99% of these supplements flat-out
don't work. Nevertheless, the supplement industry has caught on with a
vengeance. "Ephedra-free" products are all the rage.
Here's the bottom line about ephedra-free:
(1) None of the ephedra-free supplements have any substantial research
behind them. Most of the published, peer-reviewed research on ephedrine was
conducted using a "stack" of ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin, in very specific
dosages divided throughout the day.
(2) Most of the ephedra-free research was conducted by parties who gained
financially from favorable reports (this is nothing new, especially in the medical
(3) Most of these supplements are ineffective at stimulating thermogenesis to
the point to where significant fat loss occurs.
(4) Some people will suffer the same side-effects as ephedrine-based products
due to the fact that most ephedra-free products still contain stimulants (Which
once again, makes the product addictive and makes the manufacturers quite
(5) The psychology of "leanness in a bottle" is detrimental to anyone's
long-term fitness and health goals.
What about those before and after pics that accompany the slick ads for
ephedra-free supplements? Tom's newsletter has frequently pointed out the
rampant lies perpetrated in the bodybuilding rags: Get fat and flabby, snap a
before pic, resuming their training and then credit this amazing 'transformation'
on XYZ fat-burner. We won't mention names, but I think most of us know the
companies responsible for this sort of consumer fraud.
My take on this issue is simple: I guess you could say that while ephedrine and
caffeine may be legitimate fat loss aids, the most reasonable, safe and effective
fat loss agents are still a great diet, less calories consumed than expended,
weights, and cardio.
Lyle McDonald holds a degree in kinesiology from UCLA and is the author
of "The Ketogenic Diet." Arguably, he is the world's top expert on
ketogenic dieting. (He literally Òwrote the book on it"). Lyle's articles have
appeared in FLEX magazine, Hardgainer, Dirty Dieting, Think Muscle.com,
and Cyberpump.com. Lyle is also well-known for his Body Opus diaries
(http://low-carb.org/lylemcd/) where he documented his week by week
experience on Body Opus. To order his book, visit Lyle on the web at
When Tom approached me to give my opinions on the new crop of
ephedra-free fat burners, I wondered if I'd be able to do it without calling
everyone in the industry names. I probably won't but I'll do my best.
The current backlash against ephedrine/caffeine (EC) combinations is no
surprise, even if it is a bit ridiculous. Yes, EC has caused a number of deaths
over the years. So has any drug or substance you can care to name. Frankly,
aspirin kills far more people per year than EC ever could. As well, in almost
every case of EC associated death, the actual cause of death had more to do
with improper use than anything else. Whether it was excessive dosing,
combining it with other substances (the Herbal Ecstasy products were primarily
EC and ravers are known for doing all kinds of other drugs) or simply folks who
shouldn't have been taking it in the first place (i.e. individuals with preexisting
heart conditions). And while the recent death of a professional baseball player
was conveniently blamed on his use of EC, the fact that he showed up to camp
out of shape and was forced to train in the heat is the more likely cause.
If one looks at the clinical research over the past 10 years or so, EC turns out to
be extremely safe and effective as long as it is used properly and intelligently.
It's only with abuse or non-intelligent use that problems can arise. Of course,
the same can be said for any substance. Alcohol use is different from abuse,
steroid use is different from abuse, and as I mentioned even aspirin can kill you
if you abuse it. I consider EC one of the best dieting products to have ever
come down the pike: it's effective, inexpensive and extremely safe AS LONG AS
YOU USE IT CORRECTLY.
Of course, since our planet is mostly filled with morons, a bunch of people used
it incorrectly and now the rest of us have to suffer by losing one of the best diet
compounds ever. But all of this is really sort of irrelevant, the writing is on the
wall for EC products and they are unlikely to be readily available in the near
future. Even if outright legislation isn't passed banning EC stacks, the insurance
necessary for companies to sell the stuff (just in case of litigation) will be too
high. Supplement companies, always trying to stay ahead of the game, realized
this and are now bombarding us with 'ephedrine free' fat burners that they claim
are more effective than the EC stack. Twinlab jumped on the bandwagon,
MuscleTech has released a new ephedra free version of Hydroxycut and the
boys over at T-mag are busily hyping their new HotRox product just as they've
hyped every other product they've ever released.
Which raises the question, are these EC free fat burners effective and are they
more effective than the EC stack? Are they safer and do they accomplish
anything in the real world. Here are my thoughts. Now, I can't claim to have
looked at the ingredients of all the current crop of products so my comments
are far from all inclusive. I did check out a few of the major ones (products by
Twin and Muscletech and the ingredients in HotRox). For the most part, they
are filled with crap.
Synephrine is a common ingredient, usually some type of stimulatory amino acid
(most seem to pick phenylalanine although tyrosine would be a far better
choice), Muscletech put Citrimax in their product. Other ingredients are green
tea extract (which does seem to have an effect thermogenically by itself), a
herbal form of caffeine (which is a mild thermogenic) and the standard mix of
random herbs that probably do nothing at all. At least HotRox has some
innovative compounds, they are using a 'super' form of 7-keto DHEA that Bill
Roberts cooked up along with some other ingredients.
Frankly, I'm not impressed by most of these products and the claims of
superiority over EC are nothing but that: claims. These products might have
some effectiveness (anything is better than nothing) but as far as being
superior to EC, I doubt it highly. As far as specific ingredient, synephrine is sort
of a fake thermogenic, it makes you feel warmer but it doesn't do it by
increasing how much heat you're generating (through true thermogenesis).
Rather, it's a vasoconstrictor that makes you lose less heat. Hence you feel
warmer but it's not increasing caloric expenditure. I should note that synephrine
still *might* have an effect through it's action as an alpha-1 agonist; it might
increase leptin uptake into the brain which can only be useful on a diet. I
discussed this topic in my Bromocriptine booklet. Citrimax is crap from a fat
burning standpoint unless you're a rat, although it may have mild appetite
suppressant properties (it's also useful during carbohydrate overfeeding but
you're not doing that on a diet). I already mentioned the amino acid combos but,
even if they picked tyrosine, you can't get enough of the active ingredient into
the product for it to do much. The limit on your standard capsule is 1 gram and
you typically need gram doses of aminos to get anything done. Yeah, fine
caffeine is a no brainer and green tea extract is probably useful (it inhibits
adrenaline/noradrenaline breakdown so it's more of a thermogenic extender)
but you can get those separately for a hell of a lot cheaper.
I should probably mention T-mag's HotRox since it's at least innovative and
different from the rest of the crap products. Except for one abstract (that I'd like
to see the human research on), 7-keto DHEA is unproven (except in rat liver
slices). Gugguls actually do have some human research behind them and some
people have reported good results so that works. The forskolin derivative
they've included is interesting as well but I'm still not sure that any of these
compounds (forskolin included) actually makes it to the fat cell; all of the
research is done in a test-tube and I've never seen studies on oral
bioavailiability of the stuff. Again, caffeine is a no brainer and although the
inclusion of a tyrosine and tryptophan derivative is interesting, I doubt they can
get enough in there to do much. If someone were going to try an EC free
thermogenic (and has $70/month to toss), at least HotRox might have a chance
of doing something; the rest are basically crap as far as I'm concerned.
I guess that pretty much sums up my thoughts. Frankly, all of the scare tactics
used to discredit EC were pretty much crap. And with the possible exception of
HotRox, most of the EC-free thermogenics I've seen are overpriced
combinations of crap that are unlikely to have more than a mild effect (if they do
anything at all). Most of these products are too new for any real world results to
be there. I'm going to mourn EC which was about as close to a 'perfect' diet
drug we had, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.
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